Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New MRI and a Fixed Focus on the Lord

The doctors agreed that Linda needed to have her MRI moved up from late November to today. The decision, made rather quickly, was based on the loss of movement on her left side. There was concern that the tumor was growing or that swelling had taken hold. Lo and behold, the MRI showed that the tumor is stable and may actually be better! Praise the Lord!

There is no good explanation for the decreased movement on her left side - yet. We hope to hear from Duke about that, soon. You already know about the other issues - liver, blood clot, diabetes. Another positive sign - her kidneys have improved since last week. We are doing our best to keep her hydrated - needed on many levels!

So, is the glass half-empty or half-full? Well, the glass has one half with water and one half without water. In other words, to quote John Fox, "it is what it is." The reality is that the brain tumor is the cause (or medicines such as steroids that must be taken because of the tumor) of almost every medical problem Linda faces at the present. If the tumor disappears, the complications will be far more manageable, and many will be eliminated altogether. But the complications are serious and even thought recent scans reveal a shrinking tumor, it is shrinking at a very slow rate. What are we to do?

From a medical standpoint, we do our best, following the lead of the doctors and our research, to manage each problem as it presents itself. From a spiritual standpoint, we look to the Lord. Do you remember the story of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20 as the army of Judah was being threatened by a great multitude of soldiers from several armies? Jehoshaphat knew that if God did not intervene, Judah was toast. In his prayer (verse 12), Jehoshaphat did the right thing by putting his trust completely in the Lord: "We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You."

That is a great prayer, isn't it? "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You!" Now, do not think that I am claiming victory over this illness based on passages like this one - that is taking Scripture out of context. As I mentioned in a recent post, God has not promised us health and wealth in these NT days, but He has promised us spiritual blessings. Oh, no doubt, He does heal and we continue to pray - AND, we take encouragement from today's report! I had braced myself for bad new, but good news came in its place! Thank You, Lord! The problems that remain are serious, though, and we stand quietly with our eyes on the Lord.

Years ago, Linda shared a verse with me that had ministered to her. I have probably used this verse in ministry more than any other. The poetry and beauty of the King James Version for this particular verse draw me to it time and again. Psalm 94:19: "In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul."

Linda is having some trouble breathing tonight. Blood work revealed that her CO2 levels are low - low enough to cause concern. When her oxygen levels were tested in the office yesterday, they were quite good, but the blood work has raised concerns twice in a row. Another issue to sort out. It would be enough to drive one batty - unless the Lord sends His comfort. Our eyes are on Him tonight, and His comforts delight our souls. I trust you, also, will look to Him with whatever is facing you. For all practical purposes, we have no choice. If you feel that you can do something about your problem, it is a far greater task for you than for us to keep your eyes on Him. My prayer is that your focus will be fixed on Him Who alone can bring you comfort to withstand any challenge this life can present to you.

God's richest blessings on you!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Diabetes . . .

. . . is the latest malady with which Linda’s body must contend. Not only that, but her liver enzymes continue to be at such a high level that she is unable to resume chemotherapy. Her kidneys are strained and her oxygen level is low. Linda is struggling. So are all of us who are close to her.

Years ago I preached a message from Ephesians 1:3 entitled Looking for Blessings in All the Wrong Places, which was, of course, a play on the title of a country song, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places. Are you familiar with Ephesians 1:3? I know you will be blessed:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

In the Old Testament, God promised blessings in every imaginable sphere of life for the individuals of the nation of Israel if they would love and obey Him. There were, of course, spiritual blessings, but also material blessings, physical blessings, including long life for you and blessings on your children and grandchildren, medical blessings, victory over the nation’s enemies, even psychological and emotional blessings. Of course, if the nation as a whole forsook God, all Israelites suffered.

The promise is much different in the NT for those who will follow the Lord. If you will live a godly life today, you are promised – persecution. HUH? Check it out for yourself in 2 Timothy 3:12. Philippians 1:29 tells us that believers are not only called to salvation, but to suffering.

Now, granted, physical ailments, such as the ones that trouble Linda, are not included in the suffering caused by the persecution of the two passages just quoted, but there is ample biblical evidence that believers are sometimes called to suffer deprivation, pain, suffering, and even death just as unbelievers do. Jesus was quite clear when He said that God makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just(ified) and the unjust(ified) alike. (Matthew 5:45)

So, are we getting shortchanged by being promised only the spiritual blessings of Ephesians 1:3? I suppose one’s answer would depend on his or her understanding and appreciation of those very spiritual blessings that are promised. I am certain that someone in the world whose loved one was dragged off to prison (North Korea) or hacked to death (Sudan) yesterday is grateful for the spiritual blessing of eternal life. How ludicrous does the “health and wealth” gospel sound in a country where the name of Jesus on one’s lips is a death sentence?

Well, I must qualify. I really, really, REALLY want God to heal Linda. We all do! Well, what I really want is for the Lord to return tomorrow! We will continue to passionately pray that He will heal her. We will also appreciate God’s spiritual blessings of eternal life, purpose, peace, His presence (and on and on we could go) more and more.

This has been a difficult week for Linda. This has also been a blessed week for Linda, because she is a child of God, a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. Linda has urged me to submit a post with nothing but various Scripture passages that have ministered to her. I will close this post with a passage that has been particularly meaningful to her. It is Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in the first chapter of that book, verses 9-14. Notice the amount of time Paul spends praying for their spiritual health as opposed to their physical health. Perhaps our prayer lives should be more in line with Paul’s! May his prayer minister to your heart:

“And so, from the day we heard (about your salvation – my note), we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

THANK YOU! A Few More Requests - Big Ones!

Linda had the CT scan to determine the condition of her lungs today. You will recall that the x-ray yesterday showed some deterioration over the last 2-3 weeks. The CT scan today revealed that Linda's condition had actually improved since yesterday! Thank you so much for your prayers!

There are still major concerns, though. Blood tests from yesterday showed that Linda's liver enzymes - elevated as of last week - have actually gone higher at some points. Also, Linda's cholesterol, triglycerides, and sugar all remain high. The sugar is of particular concern to her oncologist. We have been encouraged to talk with our GP about that. We are so grateful for a GP like Dr. Patterson - what a wonderful team in Sanford!

Because of her liver count, Linda is unable to take Temodar at the present. We are seriously considering moving to a more natural approach to fighting this cancer. We are just in the beginning stages of thinking/praying about this approach and we VERY much want you to pray with us about this decision. It does not mean we will abandon all medicine/chemo, but we may be approaching a point where we have no other choice. Could this be the way God is leading us to such an approach? I would imagine some of you are thrilled at such thinking while others are horrified! Regardless of whether you are on either pole or somewhere in the middle, would you pray for us? As you can tell, we are quite unsure right now, but we are open to whatever the Lord may have for us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Wonderful Quote . . .

. . . from the book Brokenness, by Lon Solomon, given to us by dear friends:

"Commend to me a bruised brother, a broken reed - for the Man of Sorrows is never far from him. To me, there is something sacred and sweet in all suffering, for it is so much akin to the Man of Sorrows." Robert Murry McCheyne in Banner of Truth Trust.

Special Request

We are on the roller coaster again. Fortunately, it was built - and is operated - by our heavenly Father! We are not particularly sure what is over the next ridge, so we thought we would invite you to pray for us as we head for unknown territory.

Linda had a chest x-ray two to three weeks ago which revealed some problems, though they were minor. She was told she had bronchitis and was given the proper antibiotics. Blood tests last week, taken to determine her fitness before beginning the next round of Temodar (chemo - it had been scheduled to begin last night), revealed significantly elevated liver enzymes along with a slight concern about her kidneys. She returned to the doctor today for consultation and blood tests. Her cough has improved, but is certainly still with her. The doctor wanted her to have another chest x-ray before starting the chemo. After looking at the x-ray, he found sufficient cause to order a CT scan for tomorrow morning. We are not 100% sure what he is looking for, but there is obvious concern.

These are deep waters for Linda. Well, they have been deep all along, but these waters are more troubling for her. She finds herself fatigued much more often now, even though we went up considerably on the steroids last week - this is the first report in this space of that decision. She is more discouraged than at any time in this trial. I fully understand. The caregivers and I are doing our best to help keep her spirits up. Even though she is discouraged, her hope and trust remain firmly in the Lord!

Would you please pray for my bride tonight? Pray that the Lord will touch her spirit and her body. I will report on the scan tomorrow if at all possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your faithful prayers and encouragement.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Challenges and Opportunities

These have not been the best days for Linda. When I last wrote (which was, shamefully, over a week ago!), Linda was struggling with a cough. She still is. The doctors think it is bronchitis, not pneumonia. We return to the doctor on Tuesday to see if her immune system is strong enough to begin another round of chemo on October 23.

If you have been keeping up with these posts, you know that we tried to reduce the steroids because of all the negative side effects that accompany this medicine used to control swelling in the brain (when a tumor is present, that is). The test was unsuccessful, to say the least. Linda went from 2 mg per day to 1.5 mg per day for nearly two weeks. When it was clear that Linda's adrenal glands were not kicking in to offset the reduced steroids, she resumed taking 2 mg per day. Less than a week later, it was necessary to go up to 2.5 mg per day.

A month ago, Linda could move her left hand and arm with a little bit of effort. She could use her thumb to touch all the other fingers on her left hand. Now, she can barely move the thumb on her left hand - barely. She has also struggled a great deal more with discouragement of late. I suspect (though this is certainly not a clinical diagnosis) that this discouragement is more physical - caused by the tumor - than emotional. With the lack of mobility, increased confusion (this is not critical by any means, but it is more pronounced than it was even a month ago), shortness of breath, significant difficulty swallowing (especially pills), blurring vision (we hope to see our friend, Dr. Bob Johnson, this week) and growing fatigue, AND the fact that she has hardly moved anywhere on her own for eight and a half months, these are tough days for Linda.

That means they are tough days for me, also - emotionally, that is. It is difficult to see my bride - who is so much more used to serving than to being served - struggle. We are one flesh, and though I would never dare to claim to fully understand what Linda is experiencing, there is no doubt that a part of me is suffering with her at a high level.

But, suffering brings opportunity, does it not? God has blessed me with some unusually insightful ministry friends. My good friend David Brown recently shared an insight from 1 Peter 5:6, 7: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you." Dave pointed out that the Greek verb that is translated "Humble (yourselves)" is written in the passive voice. Thus, it could be translated, "Allow yourselves to be humbled." Dave further pointed out that humility comes in two forms in the book of 1 Peter - through relationships of submission and through trials.

OK, I think we qualify! This is a marvelous opportunity for us to allow ourselves to be humbled by God. I am currently reading an excellent book written by the late Ron Dunn called, "Will God Heal Me?" Dunn states that sickness comes from four sources: 1) God, 2) Satan (though he can only act as God allows), 3) lifestyle choices, and 4) being a human. Dunn further notes that Job never once attributed the difficulties that had befallen him to Satan - he knew that God is ultimately in charge. I am certain I will share more from this insightful book as I continue to read and digest a carefully considered theology of sickness and healing. When men like Warren Wiersbe, Calvin Miller, Adrian Rogers (deceased), and Steve Brown recommend a book about such a controversial subject (it is more controversial than I could have ever imagined!), you know it is worth reading.

So, God is calling Linda and me, along with all of our family and those who know and love Linda, to submit to God's design for humility in our lives. Does that mean we quit praying for God to heal her? HEAVENS NO! PLEASE continue to pray for healing, but PLEASE do not forget to pray that we will receive all that God has for us. We can only do so with a spirit of total and absolute trust, and with an eternal perspective. 1 Peter 5:6 is easier to receive when verse 7 is included in the mix - "casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."

Even as I write this blog, Linda and I are enjoying the company of her godly and gracious parents, who are here from Rome, Georgia (nearly 500 miles away) for their 13th time to serve as caregivers. Linda is in much better spirits tonight than she has been in awhile. It could be that she is the beneficiary of many prayers from our church family today - I shared her need this morning in our second service. So, if you will join our church in praying for Linda's health AND that we will receive from God's hand all that He has for us so that we may in turn refresh those who find themselves behind us in the Valley of Baca (see the June 3 post). We love you!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Decisions, Wisdom and Trust

Thank you so much for your prayers, your very specific prayers. We decided to take Linda back up a bit on the steroids, back to 2 mg per day. It helped her mobility almost immediately, though she remains a loooooong way from being able to move on her own. Just as quickly, she started coughing. The last time she had this kind of coughing, it was a dry cough that turned out to be caused by reflux. This time, there is definite congestion in her lungs. A chest x-ray on Friday revealed that something is happening there. She has started new antibiotics, and the cough seems ever so slightly better this Saturday night. PLEASE pray that she will not develop pnuemonia again.

Linda also decided she would take Lovenox shots for her clotting problems in order to eliminate the need for adjusting the coumadin. Linda has been dangerously close to bleeding and developing more clots as her blood levels go up and down. The Lovenox creates a great deal more certainty. The downside is that she has to take shots in her stomach every day.

We are so grateful for the huge response to the last post when we asked for very specific prayer in order of our desire, beginning with a prayer for healing and then for wisdom. We still are praying fervently for healing as we seek to trust God for His decision. 1 Peter 5 and Philippians 4 have particularly ministered to Linda of late. Thank you for sharing Scripture with us, also! God bless.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Life is Hard - but God is Good!

Linda has completed her latest regimen of Temodar (chemo). It was difficult toward the end, but she got through it – thank you so much for praying with us! I have no doubt heaven responded (in God’s will, of course) to your requests for Linda to receive/endure the medicine.

It is always difficult to know how to write these notes. We want to stay as positive as possible, and there has been plenty of good news along the way . . . but, dealing with cancer has never been easy for anyone. One of the primary reasons I am encouraged about Linda’s future is that our Father in heaven has led so very many people to pray. Frankly, I am stunned by the number of people who tell me they check this site almost every day (some check it more than once a day) to see how Linda is doing. “Thank you” seems so inadequate, but it is all we have, so we try to say it often.

Since so many of you are praying, the last thing I want to do is to come across as discouraged. We are not anywhere close to defeated, and though discouragement knocks often at our door, the goodness of God that is displayed in so many ways (often through you) continually brings our focus back to Him, and so we rejoice in the midst of suffering (Romans 5:1-5).

It is time, though, to be all the way honest – we need you to walk this valley with us. Do not be alarmed! I am not about to say that things are way worse than we have reported. Every good word you have heard from us has been true, and we are quite excited that the tumor is shrinking (albeit, ever so slightly). The complications of the medications (necessitated by the tumor) have begun to take a heavier toll, and we want you to be aware of the extent of the challenges Linda is facing so that you can pray more specifically.

Prolonged use of steroids creates a number of problems – muscle wasting, increased appetite and weight (the weight gain seems to come even if you control your appetite) and compromised immune system, to name a few. Linda was initially taking up to 12 mg of decadron (dexamethasone – the generic – really) per day early in the process, and we have worked all the way down to 2 mg per day. We are currently on our second or third try to reduce that to 1.5 mg per day, and then keep on going down until we eliminate them altogether. We cannot reduce more than .5 mg every two weeks, because the adrenal glands need time to kick back so that steroids will not have to be reintroduced to Linda’s list of medicines.

The reason for the steroids in the first place is to keep the swelling in the brain down. Anytime there is a foreign object in the body, swelling is likely. We asked Linda’s doctor at Duke last week if it is possible for brain tumor patients to get off steroids. He said that some can and some cannot. He also said that it is easier to reduce steroids at the higher levels (say, from 12 mg to 8 mg) than it is at lower levels like we are trying. As I said, this is the 2nd or 3rd attempt at reducing the steroids from 2 mg to 1.5 mg per day. We started 11 days ago – and it does not seem to be working.

Linda has lost fine motor skills (she can barely move her left hand at all), she has much more difficulty transferring from the wheel chair to car, etc., she is more tired than before, and discouragement comes more easily and more often.

We would like to try more natural means for reducing swelling, such as salmon oil and other Omega 3’s, but they interact radically with the Coumadin, which must be taken because of the blood clot. Her blood has gone from thick to thin time and again these past few months. The lack of mobility (exacerbated by the reduction in steroids) makes it more difficult to deal with the blood clot and keep others away. She is scheduled for Physical Therapy on Thursday, but we are not sure she will be able to move enough to participate. One thing leads to another.

So, you can see where we are. Should the tumor continue to shrink (either through the Temodar or by more direct intervention by God – though He directs the Temodar, also!), the swelling will go down and Linda can get off the steroids that way, move more and allow her body to take care of the blood clot. But, that’s not how things are going, now.

These complications represent nowhere near a complete list, but they are the most disconcerting. We need direction from the Lord in the decision to continue to keep the steroid dosage down, or go back to 2 mg (which allows more mobility but increases risks in all the aforementioned areas) and make life a bit easier for the time being. Life seems so unstable right now. Thankfully, GOD NEVER CHANGES! He is rock-solid stable and as Linda has said time and again, nothing takes Him by surprise.

Since He is so powerful and invites us to make our requests known to Him, would you pray for Linda’s complete healing all over again? He has not chosen to heal in dramatic fashion to this point, but He has caused the tumor to reduce in size, which is a miracle in itself. Would you pray that God would direct us in our decisions should He not remove the tumor immediately and want us to continue in this valley for now? Our lives are in His hands – so are yours. We would all do well to rest there.

So, please pray as you feel led, but we would like to suggest this order:

1) Heal Linda completely – since we will have more specific requests, I want to say that I do not consider it a lack of faith to ask for the following requests should God decide not to answer this first one in the manner we are asking for Him to
2) For the swelling in the brain to stop so that we can reduce the steroids down to zero (and thus be able to quit antibiotics, etc) and Linda to regain mobility
3) For wisdom to know when to concede that the swelling is not going to stop without steroids and go back to 2 mg per day
4) For the Temodar to reduce the size of the tumor and thus eliminate the need for the steroids
5) For her blood levels to stabilize with the Coumadin and for Linda’s body to deal properly with the blood clot
6) For us to glorify God with our hearts and mouths, no matter what God’s decision is in this for us

Life is hard, no question, but GOD IS GOOD!